*In memory of Robert C. Thornton Sr. who passed away on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. He was 78.
Mr. Thornton was inducted into the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
CHEROKEE COUNTY HALL OF FAME: Thornton ‘gave everything he had’ on the field
By Shannon Fagan, Sports Editor, Cherokee County Herald
Perhaps former University of Alabama football manager Bert Jones describes his longtime friend, former Cherokee County High School football standout Robert Thornton, the best.
“He gave you everything he had all the time,” Jones said. “He left it all out on the field.”
That’s no idle statement.
Thornton was selected to the all-state football team at tackle as a senior in 1954. He received a four-year scholarship to play football at the University of Alabama (1955-58) and earned a degree in industrial management.
Following his college football career, Thornton spent over 20 years in the military as a helicopter pilot. He went on to form Thornton Properties, LLC in Guntersville in 1985, serve as president of the Marshall County Board of Realtors and was a state director of the Alabama Board of Realtors.
An avid outdoorsman, Thornton also served as the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s president in 2001-02.
“Me and my brother (Lief) talk about this all the time. He accomplished more by the time he was 30 than both of us combined at 40,” said son Mark Thornton. “He’s an amazing person. The things he’s done in his life are really incredible.”
Thornton can add one more accolade to that incredible career. He was recently chosen to be part of the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Thorton, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, will be presented into the hall by Jones. Jones met Thornton while he was a manager at the University of Alabama football team back in the 1950s for head coach Jennings Whitworth.
“It’s quite an honor for him. To be recognized by your hometown people is really something,” Jones said. “He was one of my best friends down on the campus and was just one of those people everybody liked. He was always a good athlete, always had a good attitude and good work ethic.”
Jones recalls the hard-hitting Thornton always reporting back to the Crimson Tide football team in shape ready to go to work because he wanted to be the best he could at his position.
“The coaches liked him because of the effort he put out,” Jones said. “I remember one situation we had at practice. We had a coach named Lew Bostick, and Coach Bostick was a real good athlete and a good coach. They were running a drill where the linemen would come off a plank with a cage over the top of them. They were charging low and had to maintain a low presence. When it was Robert’s time to go, he came through there and Coach was at the other end. Somehow or other, Robert knocked the coach down and knocked his teeth out. He had false teeth. Coach saw his teeth on the ground and just picked them up and put them back in, started laughing and said ‘Let’s go get them!’”
Practice was something Thornton seemed to enjoy, even back in high school, according to former Warrior teammates Tab Chandler and Billy Joe Baker.
“He was about the biggest fellow on the team and the strongest. He could run over us puny guys,” Chandler said. “I remember he was playing defense and I’d tried to block him, but he’d come up and get me in the chin. He was just so much bigger and stronger than the rest of us. He was a real good player.”
Added Baker: “I was a guard, and he was just a real good blocker. He had a good physique, very strong. He was such a good athlete and a very good ball player.”
Mark Thornton said his father has told him stories of games and plays they ran during his days at the University of Alabama, but it wasn’t until he was researching his father’s career that he realized the extent of how deep his father’s history was.
“I’ve got all kinds of old articles from The Birmingham Post Herald and some old newspaper clippings from The Cherokee Herald from the 1950s,” he said. “It’s challenging to find information from that timeline, but it’s an amazing accomplishment and honor for him (to be selected for the Hall of Fame). He’s excited about it. He didn’t anticipate anything like this.”
Robert Thornton’s stories didn’t end when his athletic career was over. He had plenty to tell following his days as a pilot as well.
“He had a highly decorated military career,” Mark Thornton said. “He spent 23 years in the military, two combat terms in the Vietnam. He was a helicopter pilot. He’s a retired lieutenant colonel. It’s unreal at the things he was involved with and the honors he got.”
Following his service to his country, Robert Thornton began a career in real estate. According to Mark Thornton, his father met up with former Alabama teammate Tom Mosley in Guntersville and helped him get his real estate career started. It’s a business Mark and Lief Thornton still continue today.
“Tom got him in real estate and dad started our company in 1985,” Mark Thornton said. “He had a stellar real estate career after the military. He was the president of our local board of realtors, and he was an avid outdoorsman. He hunted and fished. He’s been all over the world hunting. You name the country and he’s just about been there.”
Robert Thornton has six children and 13 grandchildren. In addition to sons Mark and Lief, his other children are Scott, Jan, Charlotte and Robert Jr. Scott passed away a few years ago and Robert Jr. was killed serving our country in Iraq in 2004.